2006.06.28 Someone I hate

Written by David Green.


By JEFF PICKELL

(Before I begin this week’s column, I should tell you that, when I was interviewing for my job here at the Observer, David suggested his second email to me that I might have a tendency toward wordiness. This was after I sent him a way-too-long 4,000 word description of my anthropology minor that I could’ve easily cut down to a way-too-long 2,000 word description.

And he was right. I am the king of wordiness. But, of late I’ve been trying to cut back on my logorrhea. (To make this column suitable for public consumption, I should pass on that logorrhea is, to paraphrase Webster, pathologically excessive wordiness.

In fact, it’s not rare that I see “make suitable for public consumption” next to one of my 50-word single sentence paragraphs. In fact, it’s not rare for Colleen and Kim to cross out “in fact” when it appears in my rough drafts. In fact, they insist I remove the phrase from my lexicon.

A lexicon, by the way, is basically one’s vocabulary.

“Why didn’t he just use the word ‘vocabulary’ in the first place?” I’m sure you’re asking.

You see, as a trained English major, it’s not my job to say what I actually mean. It’s not my job to say anything, in fact. That’s the secret of the academic study of literature—professors get paid to produce articles about nothing that nobody reads and they rear their students to do the same.

The problem is, there aren’t enough professorships to go around, so most English majors end up at small town newspapers writing articles that make editors slap their heads in frustration and wonder why they got into the business in the first place.

But you have to give me credit; I’ve come a long way. For proof, here’s a passage I wrote in college about a character in Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom!:

“Though slavery has been abolished, Wash, the white man, still unconsciously perpetuates the master-slave, superior-inferior, relationship established before the advent of the war. And he does this, apparently, for no other reason than that he might restore the master, who currently is no greater or richer than he, back to the position he would have before the fall of slavery, and thus further subordinate himself.”

My professor responded to my painstakingly-formulated nonsensical claim with a margin note to the effect of “not really.” To this day, I don’t know whether he was agreeing or disagreeing with me. He also remarked that the paper was “well-written” and either “neatly argued” or “nerdly” argued—I can’t really read his handwriting. But I got an A-minus, which I think is pretty good for a paper on a 300-page book that only has four sentences.

Over the 40 hours I spent writing it, about 50,000 children died in Africa.

But who wants to be a spoilsport and bring all that nastiness up when we could be writing papers about Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which asks the profound question: “Roguenaar Loudbrags, that soddy old samph! How high is vuile, var?”

James Joyce’s three novels—A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake—are now regarded as three huge acts of charity. They have created jobs for thousands upon thousands of English professors who otherwise would have to engage in worthwhile behavior for a living.

Am I coming off as a tad hostile toward academic English studies? Good. There are useful kinds of writing. Journalism is useful. Book and movie reviews are useful. Novels and short stories are useful. But writing about what a book is about, often in such haughty and archaic prose that the writing itself is indecipherable? Please.

After all, in his Imaginations, William Carlos Williams wrote, “Prose, relieved of extraneous, unrelated values must return to its only purpose; to clarity to enlighten the understanding.”

It’s a journalist’s job to clarity to enlighten the understanding—I just didn’t get it when I started here. I was still stuck in my illusory microcosm of literary cosmopolitanism, preoccupied with pastoral hyperbole, wandering amongst the disjunct adverbial clauses that lolled, withering forth, as a seaflower, pale as a child’s belly, in the vast and gelatin ocean of my imagination.

Which is to say, I was still obsessed with high falutin’ words and stupid gimmicks. Anyway, on with the column.))

I hate Ben Affleck.

– June 28, 2006
  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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